- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Belgium and Europe’s performance in gender equality

The World Economic Forum published its Global Gender Gap Index 2010 earlier this month. Scandinavian countries are leading the way with Iceland taking the top spot just in front of Norway, Finland and Sweden. These countries succeeded in reaching between 80% and 83% equality in the four areas under analysis (education, economy, health and politics). No country in the world has yet managed to obtain absolute equality!

So how did Europe fare?

In the Top 15 there are eight European countries this year, with Spain and Belgium replacing the Netherlands and Latvia (Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the UK). Belgium has climbed 19 places from 33rd to 14th position since last year. Germany has slipped back into 13th position down from 12th and the UK has remained constant in 15th place. Spain is up six places to 11th position. Greece climbs 27 positions from 85th to 58th.

Luxembourg is the best student in the European class with an increase from 63rd to 26th place. The US has entered the top 20 for the first time reflecting the larger number of women in top positions in President Obama’s administration. One of the biggest changes in the 2010 report was France, which plummeted from 18th place in 2009 to 46th place this year just above Estonia. This could largely be due to a government that has excluded numerous female ministers. European countries still lingering around the bottom rungs are: Cyprus (86), Malta (83), Hungary (79) Italy (74), Slovak Republic (71) and Romania (67).

This year’s report warned that while gaps were narrowing between men’s and women’s health and education, women were still left out of the labour market – including salaried and skilled jobs. “[…] only 60% of the global economic participation gap has been closed and only 16% of the gap on political empowerment,” says co-author Saadia Zahidi.

Among the western countries, those that come out best for their participation of women in the economy are the Nordic countries and the United States. Belgium performs slightly better than last year when we turn to the participation of women in the economy (39th as opposed to 65th in 2009). However, the number of women in decision-making roles in the country still produces a dismal score, so more work is needed there.

Belgium’s place is not so bad…

Women have more chance of reaching the top positions in their careers in Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon countries than in France, and particularly in Germany where mothers who work full-time are not well regarded. The only parameter that prevents Belgium from ending up on the bottom rung of the equality ladder is the participation of women in politics and, in particular, the number of female MPs, for which they are placed in 8th position, up five places from last year. This is no surprise given that this is the only function for which parity (on the electoral list) is a legal requirement!

Should we introduce quotas to advance women in business?

The lack of equality in economic life is not anecdotal… more than 60% of graduates are women despite the fact that we make up only 5% of the top management of companies and 3% of CEOs! Companies are depriving themselves of such talent and diversity within their management and, in turn, economic performance is not what it could be. Numerous studies have analysed the link between diversity and performance and all came to the same conclusion – there is a positive correlation. But that’s not all… in accepting gender inequality in the labour market, it’s the entire country that is abandoning the idea of growth. As Saadia Zahidi puts it: “If women are now as healthy and as educated as men, it makes sense to ensure that they are part of the economy and part of decision-making processes.”